German parliament votes to legalise same-sex marriage

MPs pass bill granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including on adoption.

Germany’s parliament has voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, joining many other western democracies in granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including adoption.

Norbert Lammert, president of the parliament, said 393 lawmakers voted in favour, 226 voted against and four abstained.

The chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she voted against the move because she believed marriage was for a man and a woman. She said the decision for her was a personal one, but she hoped the result would lead to greater social cohesion.

The election-year bill was pushed by Merkel’s leftist rivals, who pounced on a U-turn she made on Monday in which she softened her stance against gay marriage, a manoeuvre that left many conservative politicians fuming.

The lower house approved the law on Friday, hours before the Bundestag begins its summer recess.

Before the vote, gay and lesbian groups cheered the push for marriage equality in Germany, where civil partnerships were legalised in 2001.

“It’s a real recognition, so it warms the heart,” said French engineer Christophe Tetu, 46, who lives in Berlin with his partner Timo Strobel, 51.

“We’re thinking about having a party, getting married and using our new rights to protect our relationship.”

Strobel said he too was “overjoyed” the couple would be able to show family and friends “that we are committed to each other, that we will stay together and we will spend our lives together”.

The law will probably take effect before the end of the year.

Renate Künast of the Green party, which has pushed for decades for LGBT rights, quipped: “I would advise all registry offices in the country to boost staff numbers.”

The rapid series of events kicked off with an onstage interview Merkel gave to women’s magazine Brigitte, in which an audience member asked her: “When can I call my boyfriend my husband if I want to marry him?”

Merkel, who long opposed gay marriage with adoption rights, citing “the wellbeing of the children”, replied that her thinking had shifted since she met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children.

Many read the surprising comments as a move to deny opposition parties a strong campaign issue before the elections on 24 September.

In the live question-and-answer session, she said a personal encounter with Gundula Zilm and her partner in the chancellor’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern constituency had helped change her mind after years of feeling conflicted over the issue.

“I had a life-changing experience in my home constituency,” Merkel told the audience. She said she had confided in “a lesbian constituent” that her personal “sticking point” on gay marriage was the “welfare of children”.

Merkel said Zilm, who had fostered children from troubled homes for years with her partner, had responded: “‘I tell you what, come and visit me in my home, where I live with my lesbian partner and eight foster children. The foster children have been with us for a long time, and I think they’re doing well.’” Merkel said she had not yet taken Zilm up on her invitation but hoped to do so.

Merkel’s coalition allies, the Social Democrats (SPD), as well as the Greens, far-left Linke and pro-business Free Democrats, declared a same-sex marriage law as a precondition for an alliance.

On Tuesday, after much buzz on social media, the SPD’s chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz, took Merkel at her word and broke coalition ranks to call for an immediate vote, a move the CDU condemned as a “breach of trust” after four years of joint rule.

Merkel called the political ambush and rush to vote on such a weighty issue “sad and, above all, totally unnecessary”. But her change of stance left the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany as the only party to oppose same-sex marriage.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative daily, predicted that after the vote “it will be said Angela Merkel has avoided another stumbling block to post-election coalition talks”.

“But the CDU will also have lost its right to be called a conservative party – and instead now appears willing to throw any conservative values overboard in order to keep up with the times.”

Markus Ulrich, of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, said Merkel had long argued against gay marriage “in an emotional way and never with real arguments”.

He added: “It’s very good that she took some time to better understand the reality of same-sex families and couples, in order to get a better picture of the situation. We think it’s very good and, even if this is happening only because of the electoral campaign, it doesn’t matter.”